Sunday, September 11, 2016
Commemoration of 9/11
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer.
This morning is the 15th anniversary since the 9/11 terror attacks. The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured at least 6,000 others. It has become one of those events—like the assassination of JFK or the first moon landing—that people can recall where they were and what they were doing that grim morning, as the footage started coming in. Sadly for many in this area, it is more than just an important national memory, marred as it is by the death of friends, associates, and family members. In Monmouth County alone there were 147 fatalities from the attacks. The Bible has some sobering things to say about that grim day, and I'd like to point out some of the connections between our lessons and this commemoration.
First of all, in the Gospel we have the account of what are known as the holy innocents, the children who were barbarously slaughtered by Herod in order to kill the baby Jesus whom he perceived as a threat to his political power. In the Christian tradition, these children are remembered as martyrs. Though they did not consciously or even willingly die for our Lord, yet they lost their lives because they bore the wrath of Herod that had been intended for the baby Jesus. This narrative of the holy innocents puts us in mind of a sad fact in this fallen world that there will always be innocent people who are slaughtered unjustly by the rage of those have a will-to-power or who want to use coercion and fear to change the world into their own vision for it. As people who honor the holy innocents, Christians are called to renounce every slaughter of innocent people and to repudiate the use of fear and coercion as instruments for change. However just (or unjust) the perceived cause may be, no quarter can be given to violence against innocent people.
In the lesson for the Epistle, we have St. John's vision of heaven. There the saints rest in the Lord, and they rest from the turmoil which they endured: they shall hunger no more, neither thirst; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. The world may say that death is the worst thing that can happen to you, but long ago, the philosophers pointed out that length of life does not equate with a happy life. A short, well-lived life is immeasurably better than a long life that is plagued by vice. Further, as Christians we believe in a greater life. We believe in this life because our Lord Jesus rose triumphant from the dead on Easter morning, and so we too by our baptism and faith in him, will share in that new life, once we have passed through the same gate of death he entered on our behalf. These truths remind us that even if one's life is cut prematurely short, it is decidedly not the worst thing that could happen to you.
In the Psalm, we hear of the confidence of the psalmist in God's care and love. I particularly like the last verse and often refer to it at funerals: the Lord shall preserve thy going in and thy coming out from this time forth and forevermore. The message here is not only about God's protection—that we need not fear any mortal or created thing, but also about God's timing. The Almighty with his all perceiving eye preserves our entrance into this world, he sees that we cry, as Shakespeare put it, when we are come to this great stage of fools. The Lord is also present at our departure and because the Lord Jesus has sanctified death by his death we need not fear it.
Now you might be saying to yourself this morning, this is a lot of talk about heaven, but what about this life? Why does God allow horrific things like 9/11 to happen? It's important to remember that God gives us free-will, even to work evil, but the truth is sometimes there are just no easy answers to suffering. Consider the suffering of Job who never got the answer to why, but he did receive the assurance of God's loving providence. Just because we can't always say why horrible tragedies occur, we can still say that they have a redemptive aspect: they teach something we need to learn. Look at the signs of love and care that were poured forth on that grim day fifteen years ago. The love and concern is the way we're supposed to live all the time. We need to remember that love and strive to imitate it. In addition, 9/11 has something to teach about how to live as American and patriots. If no other good can be seen in these events, at the very least it should inspire us to renew our resolve to promote the common wealth of this nation and the liberty of our democracy.
On November 19, 1863 many gathered together in a small town in Pennsylvania to remember the death of over 7,000 in a grim three-day battle. Although it would be incorrect to say that they were innocent, it might be argued that their blood was shed unnecessarily. On that date, a new cemetery was dedicated for the fallen of Gettysburg, and President Lincoln thought that their memory should be preserved not only to keep in mind the horrors of war, but that their deaths might make everyone better citizens and patriots. In those familiar words he said,
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
My friends, we have unfinished work as Christians and Americans to do. On this day of commemoration, let us renew our resolve as people of faith and re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of freedom and justice for which our nation stands. Let not the lives of those who died in 9/11 be lost in vain, as we strive to build a more just society and a more faithful church.